The demise of József Szájer — the anti-gay “Christian Conservative” politician who led a double life

I don’t think anyone who has deeper insights into Hungarian politics was especially surprised when it became public that Fidesz co-founder and MEP József Szájer attended an all-male orgy at an apartment in Brussels in November, which was raided by police for violating pandemic gathering restrictions. Mr. Szájer fled the scene and had on his person a backpack containing illegal drugs, notably ecstasy tablets. He was intercepted by Belgian police and appeared to be injured, with blood on his hands. Mr. Szájer confirmed that he had attended the sex party, but denied using drugs. His wife of 37 years is Tünde Handó and she sits on the Constitutional Court of Hungary. Mr. Szájér resigned as Member of the European Parliament and issued an apology asking that people “assess my misstep against my 30 years of dedicated and persistent service.” He then asked that his “misstep” not be projected onto Fidesz, adding that the responsibility is his alone. The Fidesz-KDNP caucus accepted Mr. Szájer’s resignation and in their curt statement said it was the only right thing to do.

Those who have followed closely Hungarian politics will raise an eyebrow at the suggestion that the sex party in which Mr. Szájer participated was a misstep, rather than a lifestyle. For decades, people on all sides of the political spectrum spoke about what they heard or knew of Mr. Szájér’s presence at gay bars and his sexual activities. There was a suggestion that when Mr. Szájer became an MEP at the very first opportunity in 2004, immediately after Hungary joined the EU, he was effectively being exiled to Brussels by Fidesz, on the basis of the old adage: “out of sight, out of mind.” The hushed voices of political circles shared that he was too much of a liability at home.

József Szájer

There are a number of political concerns around this revelation. János Stummer, the Jobbik Chair of the Hungarian Parliament’s National Security Committee, has added the Szájer affair to the Committee’s agenda next week. A theory is circulating, without evidence, that German national security were involved in “outing” Mr. Szájer, in retaliation for Hungary’s decision to veto EU emergency COVID-19 relief funds, as the disbursement of these funds to member states was tied to a commitment to democratic values in the given state. In November, both Hungary and Poland demanded that the stipulation around preserving democratic values be removed and they blocked passage of the relief package for the entire European Union. Mr. Stummer is concerned about claims of foreign interference, made without any evidence. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó will be questioned at the same Committee meeting.

Fidesz was not always an anti-LGBTQ+ party. When Mr. Szájer helped establish the movement in the eighties, it was distinctly liberal and youthful. Even as it moved towards the right, social conservative wedge issues were not featured prominently in the party’s platform. Unlike Poland, Hungarian society was historically relatively progressive on matters of LGBTQ+ rights. In the Kádár era, Budapest’s historic bath culture formed part of a gay “scene” in the Hungarian capital. This was a widely known and accepted secret, even as communist-era secret police kept close tabs on gay men and blackmailed some into becoming informants. In 1988, Hungary became the first Eastern Bloc country to officially register a community organization serving LGBTQ Hungarians. Going back further, some of Hungary’s most celebrated cultural icons of the twentieth century were gay. Hilda Gobbi (1913-1988) was an actress of national name recognition in Hungary and it was no secret that she was a lesbian. At the height of her career in the fifties and sixties, she openly sought romantic relationships with other women.  Authorities and her superiors at theatres referred  to all of this as acts of “passion.” For the most part, they accepted her. Ms. Gobbi lived with her female life partner, Hédi Temessy, in a villa in Buda. She was known to buy roses for her partner and give them to her quite publicly on the opening night of new theatrical performances. Later in life, Ms. Gobbi’s partner became the author Erzsébet Galgóczi, whose novel Törvényen belül was about a romance between women. The novel was turned into a film in 1982.

Other celebrated Hungarian cultural icons like singer Katalin Karády and right-wing author Cécile Tormay, were also gay. Ferenc Kölcsey, the author of Hungary’s national anthem (1823), wrote what read like love letters and at least one romantic poem to other men. It is also believed that one of the great Hungarian poets of the twentieth century, János Pilinszky, was gay. The poet makes a passing reference to this in his poem Kenyér.

In Hungary, it is simply nothing new that many celebrated national cultural icons were gay. Culturally, Hungary was never Poland.

According to a survey from 2016, fully 60 percent of Hungarians agreed that lesbian, gay and bisexual persons should have the same rights as heterosexuals. Forty-six percent also believed that same-sex couples should have the right to adopt and 36 percent support same-sex marriage. More than one out of every four Hungarians reported having gay friends or acquaintances. In more recent years, undoubtedly in large measure to Fidesz propaganda, Hungarians are becoming less open to LGBTQ rights and same sex marriage.

Mr. Szájer is not the only Fidesz politician who is believed to be gay — there is a significant number, both nationally and locally. Every one of them has tacitly or actively, sometimes enthusiastically, supported the more recent anti-gay campaign launched by Fidesz. This appears to be their new strategy for fighting and winning the 2022 national election. Anti-migrant hysteria has run its course and anti-Soros neurosis has as well. A new shadowy enemy is needed — enter the LGBTQ+ community. The persecution of transgendered Hungarians is part of this new strategy, as is the decision to make it much more difficult for single Hungarians to adopt children — a measure that targets gay Hungarians indirectly. In October 2020, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán insinuated that gay Hungarians were not actually Hungarian. This tactic has been used again and again against many demographic groups.

Mr. Szájer’s very public demise will call into question whether an anti-gay hysteria campaign can be a viable political strategy for a party that is home to so many closeted gay politicians.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *